SAN JOSE – Rasmus Dahlin was asked the question dozens of times in the weeks leading up to the NHL Draft. The inquiry was who his favorite NHL player was. The answer was always the same.
Two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.
Thursday night in SAP Center, Dahlin goes head to head with his idol for the first time when he meets veteran defenseman Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks.
"It's going to be cool watching him play live. I've never done that," Dahlin said after the Sabres' had a film session and meeting Thursday in place of a morning skate in the Shark Tank. "It's going to be cool but it's a game for me too and I need to be prepared."
Karlsson played two seasons with Frolunda from 2007-2009, the same Swedish Elite League that produced Dahlin. The two have never met but Karlsson said Thursday he's heard nothing but big things about his fellow Swedish team alum.
"I know a lot people with Frolunda that spoke very highly of him," Karlsson said after the Sharks skated at Solar4America ice, a couple miles from the arena. "Going first overall means that you're doing something right. It's going to be exciting to see him. I've seen a lot of clips and highlights from all over the world about him but it's going to be nice to play against him tonight."
Karlsson reiterated Thursday what he was widely quoted on during the spring: Dahlin is well ahead of him when he was 18.
"I wasn't very good when at 18. A lot smaller," Karlsson said. "It took me a lot longer to find my stride. Whereas for him, it's like he's ready to play right now and obviously doing a great job at it. That's something that I didn't have at that age. Comparing the two of us from where he is right now, he's miles ahead."
Karlsson chuckled when reminded Dahlin said he was his favorite player, pointing out that it really means he's getting old. Karlsson, of course, is only 28 and just six games into his San Jose career after last month's big trade from Ottawa.
"From what I've heard, he's a great guy, a great kid and he's willing to do whatever he needs to do to stay focused on hockey," Karlsson said. "That's going to be a priority for him and it's nice to hear. ... I'm looking forward to playing against him and someday play with him on the Swedish national team."
Dahlin's eyes lit up when that comment was relayed to him.
"That's super fun to hear," Dahlin said. "I want to play with him too."